Testimony of Mark Simon, April 25, 2019
Budget Oversight Hearing – Deputy Mayor for Education
My name is Mark Simon, Ward 1 resident, former DCPS parent, a life-long educator and now an education policy associate with the Economic Policy Institute.
I have come today to praise our new DME for his respectful and energetic outreach to our community but also to question how the DME’s role has been defined by him, by the DC Council, and by the Mayor.
DME Kihn has made it his business to meet repeatedly with hundreds of our city’s most knowledgeable parent, community, and educator advocates so that he seems to really understand and to have internalized the issues and the history. He’s a listener and quick study. But I’m not convinced that he or this mayor define the DME’s role to include oversight of both sectors, which is a huge mistake.
To assert that the mayor, the DC Council and the DME have no authority over the charter sector is to give up on the idea that our city’s schools need a long-range plan – with goals for the number of schools in each sector, DCPS feeder patterns parents can rely on, equitable offerings in every Ward, research on how we’re doing and whether replicable strategies are working. Treating half our schools like small businesses over which the city has little authority relinquishes normal authority this Council and this Mayor actually have over public schools. It’s what makes them public. I want to ask members of the DC Council – what is the DME’s job description?
What’s the DME’s role in developing and implementing an overall education plan for our city? Is the Chancellor accountable to him? The OSSE State Superintendent? Does he have authority over the charter sector LEAs? And if not, why not? We’ve been told that DME Kihn is going to have the entire Department of Employment Services and the Workforce Investment Council shifted to be under the DME’s supervision. These agencies have only the most indirect connection to education. Is the mayor adding to his portfolio because she is diminishing the DME’s authority over charter schools? Is he being told to stay away from the charter sector? These changes have had no hearing, no debate. If these changes are happening, the Council needs to weigh-in. It’s just not right.
Home rule and forty years of history clearly give the DC Council authority over all the schools. My suggestion to you, members of the DC Council, is to develop, in concert with the mayor, a job description for the DME.
We need an overall plan for our schools. We have far too many schools. We have 34 high schools, more than Montgomery County but they have more than twice as many students. The charter board is currently considering applications for opening 11 more charter schools, and they’ll locate wherever they choose. That’s crazy. The intention of the Charter Board is clearly to continue to expand without consideration of the overall number of schools in the city or the corollary effect on neighboring DCPS schools. Each time a charter school opens, it costs the council approximately $3,300 per pupil more than if those were DCPS seats. Does it make sense for the DME to have nothing to say over half the schools in the city, and the number of schools overall? If that is the mayor’s position, then we will never have an overall plan for education in DC, taxpayers will have their tax dollars wasted in ways unimaginable in the other 49 states, and the DC Council will have stood by and just let it happen.
So I implore you, write a job description for the DME. Require that an overall education plan be developed for our city. Ensure transparency for every school in both sectors. And protect and improve our matter-of-right neighborhood schools, before its too late.